WWF in Portofino. On the Blue Panda, their ambassador boat, to promote the “ghost gear project”. With the contribution of the Marine Protected Area of Portofino and the volunteers of the Reef Alert Network.
The WWF “ghost gear project”
For a few days, a wonderful sailboat has been sailing placidly in the waters in front of the Portofino Promontory. It is indeed very large, with a majestic tree rising into the blue sky. Flags and banners are waving, white with blue lettering. They are the symbols of the WWF. And that’s their ambassador boat. On the Blue Panda, a group of guys is ready for the “ghost gear project”. And the new WWF mission can only start from here. From the oldest Marine Protected Area in Italy, that of Portofino. It is not only the oldest. It is also the one with the most experience, where the protection of the ecosystem is giving the best results. In my opinion, it is best managed one.
The precarious ecosystem of the seabed of Portofino
But even here, unfortunately, everything does not work perfectly. Under the surface of this cobalt blue sea, there are real wonders. It is the kingdom of red coral, huge fans of gorgonians and vaults covered with madrepores and sponges.
But even down there it’s full of ghosts. They are the ghosts of the sea and they are slowly killing the wonders of this underwater world. Fishing nets and lines, entangled in the rocks of the seabed and abandoned by fishermen. Coral and gorgonians are suffocating, they stop reproducing, endangering the entire ecosystem of this stretch of sea. An ecosystem painstakingly reconstituted in 25 years of activity of the Marine Protected Area.
The abandoned fishing nets, if they remain partially suspended, continue to do their job. They keep fishing. They continue to trap all organisms that accidentally enter their meshes by swimming. Groupers, octopuses and many other animals are literally imprisoned by these ghost nets and begin a very long agony that will lead them to a slow and agonizing death.
The valuable work of the Reef Alert Network
The tangle of lines and abandoned nets is now colonizing the seabed of the Marine Protected Area and the time has come to intervene. Taking responsibility for this huge work is Reef Alert Network. By promoting environmental awareness and education campaigns. It is headed by its President, Bruno Borelli, and by Elena Colombo, Paolo Nicola and Andrea Galliadi. They represent four diving centers: Portofino Divers, Style Diving, Arco 89 and Diving Evolution. In a short time they involved a handful of volunteers and began documenting the gruesome situations in which these depths fall. Their message reached the body that manages the Portofino Marine Protected Area. A long journey of awareness began. It wants to involve everyone who enjoy the sea.
WWF in Portofino
And finally the WWF boys arrive in Portofino, aboard the magnificent Blue Panda. They are a young, close-knit and motivated group.
Claudia Scianna is the person in charge of the “Ghost Gear” project in the Mediterranean. We are sitting on the boat of the Arco 89 Diving Center and have just come back from a dive in Punta Chiappa. Together with my teammate we have just recovered a net full of lines. That we have patiently detached from the rock and above all from the gorgonians and from the red coral branches.
Claudia told me about her project. “The goal is to free some of the most sensitive areas from so-called ghost fishing gear. With the help and active participation of local communities. We want to involve fishermen, management bodies, divers and companies that deal with disposal and recycling. The project will last two years and concerns seven countries of the Mediterranean basin. In addition to Portofino, Marine Protected Areas of Croatia, France, Greece, Spain, Turkey and Tunisia will be involved. Furthermore, to identify corrective and preventive measures, the goal will also be to implement reporting protocols for lost fishing gear, through shared actions with the MPAs themselves.” In short, fishermen will be able to report that they have lost their nets or lines, directly to the bodies that manage the MPAs.
Ghost gear in the Mediterranean
They invited me to the Blue Panda support tender. I sat on the tubular, in the company of Stefania Campogianni, Communications Manager of the Mediterranean Marine Initiative. It is a WWF initiative that coordinates everything related to the sea and fishing in the Mediterranean.
“The project we are carrying out this year” Stefania tells me “is to protect the treasures of the Mediterranean. 2021 is the year of biodiversity protection and the goal is to reach 30% of the protected and reconstituted Mediterranean by 2030. A very ambitious goal, given that at the moment, although 10% is under protection of MPAs, in fact less than 2% is actually protected. There are few Marine Protected Areas that have effective management systems and their own resources to be able to protect habitats. This is why this year we will raise public awareness, institutions and all the various stakeholders. We have identified six AMPs that we define as iconic. Which are close, a bit like that of Portofino, to well-known tourist areas. “
They will leave from here to go to Zakynthos, where the WWF has projects for the protection of sea turtles. From there they will pass to Turkey and then to Cape Corse in France. They will head to Tunisia, to finish the trip in Tagomago, a small islet near Ibiza. There are six areas close to very touristic areas. The aim is to make people understand that these areas are particularly beautiful because they have an MPA nearby. Which allows marine eco systems to be healthy.
“At the same time” continues Stefania “we want to show that there are still many challenges to be able to reach a truly protected sea. The fact that even in Marine Protected Areas there are still ghost nets is an iconic symbol of a sea that must be protected.” The Mediterranean is one of the seas with the greatest plastic pollution in the world. Also, let’s not forget that ghost nets continue to fish for years. Among other things, they remain at the bottom of the sea for up to 400 years. So there is a great deal of work to be done and especially outside the Marine Protected Areas.
There is still a lot to do
The WWF project also concerns the collection of data and the mapping of the sites where the networks are. And, again, work with fishermen to define protocols. That make it possible to avoid the abandonment of networks. By placing buoys on the nets, to identify them more easily. Another aspect will be to create collection protocols. To understand whether it is better to fish out ghost nets or, in some cases, simply report their presence. Because maybe these are networks that have been there for a long time and are particularly sensitive ecosystems. So we also need to understand if collecting can be more harmful than leaving them there. A final aspect is that of recycling. There is a further problem, from a legislative point of view. We often find different legislations at the national level. The goal is to ensure that in a circular economy model, these networks can be increasingly reused.
The Blue Panda has set sail for a new adventure. Those were important days of awareness. Of hours spent underwater patrolling and bringing back nets and lines to the surface. Unfortunately, large fans of red gorgonians have also arrived on the surface. Death, trapped in myriads of plastic filaments. The situation of the seabed of the Portofino lighthouse and Punta Chiappa is very compromised. The risks are very high indeed. Everyone will be needed. A renewed commitment on the part of fishermen, greater control by the managing body of the Portofino Marine Protected Area and greater awareness on the part of us divers. But above all there is a need for men of good will. Of volunteers who want to put a tank on their shoulders and go underwater to save our marine ecosystem. Sea sweepers are really needed!!!